Major proposals to transform Tamworth town centre into the busy, thriving, heart of the community as part of a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity, can now be revealed.
Tamworth is starting 2021 with the news that it has been awarded an incredible £21.65million from the Future High Streets Fund to develop a town centre that meets the needs of 21st century shoppers, residents and businesses.
The exciting proposals include:
- Ambitions to relocate Tamworth College, part of South Staffordshire College, into the heart of the town centre
- Development of new affordable and flexible space for smaller, independent hospitality, leisure and retail businesses
- Restoration of heritage features and buildings so they can be brought back into use
- An improved entrance between the town centre and the Castle Grounds
- More affordable office space
- Improvements to Middle Entry
- The transformation of St Editha’s Square into a multi-purpose events space.
The bid to Government was put together in partnership with landlords, businesses and organisations, following months of public engagement, detailed research and feasibility studies.
The plans address a number of the top themes put forward by hundreds of local people who took part in the ‘Tamworth What’s Next?’ campaign.
Not only has Tamworth been awarded the full amount it was asking for, it is also one of the highest awards made from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government fund to renew and reshape town centres.
The project also includes a significant amount of co-investment from various partners that can transform the town centre in a positive way for the future.
While the funding has been allocated in principle, all the projects will now be subject to contracts, design work, planning permission and further consultation.
The College Quarter
Key to the transformation is the ambition to bring Tamworth College into the heart of the town centre. The proposal is for a brand new state-of-the-art college building to be built on the site of the 1960s part of the Tamworth Co-operative Society building in St Editha’s Square.
Such a move would bring around 1500 students, staff and visitors into the town centre, both in the daytime and for evening courses. It would also allow for the provision of additional courses to address local skills needs and has the potential for ground floor space to be used commercially for service-based education in areas such as food and drink and hair and beauty.
The locally-listed part of the department store, fronting onto Colehill, would be protected and turned into new affordable office space to build on the success of Tamworth Enterprise Centre.
‘Helping more businesses fill their skills gaps’ – Tamworth College
Claire Boliver, Chief Executive Principal from South Staffordshire College, said: “We are delighted to partner with Tamworth Borough Council to support the project and share their ambition to bring a brand new state-of-the-art ‘Tamworth College’ right into the heart of the community.
“Our ambition to bring Further Education into the town centre would bring economic and social benefits to the community as well as an exceptional learning environment for the development of the workforce of the future. The central location would make the college’s high-quality courses and apprenticeships even more accessible to people from across the region.
“Our focus is on ‘careers not courses’ which means we don’t just teach courses - we help local people get the skills required by local employers. With the new proposed location, our ambition is to help more businesses to fill their skills gaps, and get more local people into their dream careers, whatever their starting point.”
‘Re-energising the town centre’ – Tamworth Co-operative Society
Tamworth Co-operative Society’s chief executive Julian Coles congratulated Tamworth Borough Council for securing the funding through a highly challenging application process. He described the town centre plans as ‘transformational and tremendous’ in creating a town centre for future generations.
“Tamworth Co-op has been at the heart of the town since 1886 and our history is an integral part of the town’s rich heritage,” he said.
“While we are often confused with being part of a vast national chain, we are proud to be a truly local and independent organisation. We are one of the last few remaining local and self-governed retail co-operatives in the country.
“Therefore, of course there will be great sadness in leaving our iconic building, but we need to continue to develop and adapt to a fast-changing environment. We are in good financial shape and continue to invest locally in our family of businesses, with our latest purpose-built convenience store opening in Dordon in August 2020. We have, however, long highlighted the Colehill operation as being our most challenging trading area.
“Department stores were failing, even in large cities with high footfall, but we persevered with ours, years after others in neighbouring towns had closed their doors. We will now concentrate fully on our vibrant food and funeral divisions, as well as on our commercial property assets.”
He added: “We have many things to consider, such as the future location of our administrative offices. Our immediate concern, however, is to liaise closely with our staff and also our concession partners who will be affected by this development. We will do everything we can to ensure the best outcome for them all. We are looking to redeploy colleagues to other parts of the business and will assist our commercial partners in finding alternative premises in the town centre.
“While there is still much to be worked out, this is a very ambitious scheme for Tamworth and one which I and the directors of the Society fully support. This is undoubtedly a most exciting development for local people. It will re-energise the town centre.”
There are also plans to turn St Editha’s Square into a new multi-purpose social space that could be used for a wider variety of entertainment and events.
New gateways and rediscovering heritage
A large part of the bid involves enhancing the town’s historical treasures and improving the links between them. The proposal is to demolish the building currently occupied by Nationwide and to create a new entrance to the Castle Grounds in place of the current narrow wooden bridge. This would include opening up the ancient herringbone Castle Wall, which is said to be one of the finest examples of Norman herringbone masonry in the country. The 16th century listed buildings next to Nationwide would also be sympathetically restored and brought back into use.
Improving this access and view to the Castle Grounds would reconnect the town’s three most significant historical assets; Tamworth Castle and its walls, the Town Hall and St Editha’s Church. Through these improved gateways, the aim is to encourage the thousands of people who visit the Castle Grounds every year to venture into the town centre itself.
‘Committed to members in Tamworth’
Mandy Beech, Nationwide’s Branch Director, said: “Nationwide has made a pledge that it will not leave any town or city without a branch until at least January 2023. We’re committed to providing our members in Tamworth with the best possible service and are working with the council on their plans.”
“As the proposal means we will need to vacate the building where we’re currently based, we will be seeking a new location for our branch in Tamworth and we look forward to updating our members as these plans develop.”
Improving Middle Entry
Tamworth Borough Council is also working with the owners of Middle Entry to explore opportunities for improving the site to tie in with the new St Editha’s Square and Castle Gateway. Options being looked at include opening the area up, for example by removing the roof, and the potential provision of affordable and flexible space for new retail and leisure businesses, which could also be used for events and other activities.
“Transforming Tamworth with a vibrant new town centre”
Leader of Tamworth Borough Council, Cllr Daniel Cook, said: “In 2019 we ran the campaign – Tamworth What’s Next? This was a full consultation exercise with residents, businesses and the voluntary sector in regards improving the town centre and evolving it into a 21st century destination of choice. I stood in front of those who responded and promised I was pinning my name to finally getting the town centre going again.
"I’d again like to thank the hundreds of people who filled out a survey, commented on social media or attended a session in the council chamber on this. That feedback was key to this bid and the proposals submitted. This is a great step forward and will see a fundamental change to our town’s reputation and offer.”
Cllr Jeremy Oates, Tamworth Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Growth and Regeneration, said: “These are ambitious plans that have been put forward for our bid to the Future High Streets Fund. We know the high street has to change and adapt, and if it all goes to plan, this project (together with the redevelopment of the Gungate precinct) will deliver on many of the themes Tamworth people told us were most important to them.
“It’s said ‘build it and they will come’, and this is really the desire as the council has no control over which individual businesses or retailers come to the town - that’s determined by the public via their spending profile – but we will do everything we can to create the best conditions for new businesses and entrepreneurs.
“The bid therefore includes plans for more flexible and affordable space throughout the town centre for offices and retail/leisure/hospitality businesses, which we hope would encourage the niche, independent businesses that everyone wants to see.
“We hope this plan will go a long way to transforming Tamworth town centre. Having the college at its heart would bring hundreds of people to the town centre, day and night, regardless of market forces.
“Heritage is one of Tamworth’s strongest visitor attractions and it’s something we’re committed to building on. Tamworth Castle will be launching a brand new Anglo-Saxon exhibition this year, together with new augmented reality technology and improved facilities for weddings, events and business. The grounds are already home to some enviable annual events, attracting tens of thousands of visitors. Hopefully by having an improved gateway, we will be able to encourage more of those visitors into the town itself. And with a new social space planned for St Editha’s Square, there will be opportunities for events to link across the two.
“We’ve shown the Government what our ambitions are and we’ve been allocated the funding. It now all has to be confirmed, so the next steps are to draw up more detailed plans, submit planning permissions, formalise partnerships and things like that.
“As we progress with the project, there will be opportunities for members of the public to see what’s being proposed and get involved in some of the finer detail.
“We have already delivered on the Enterprise Centre redevelopment and the Assembly Rooms refurbishment. And we’re also getting ready to seek some public feedback on plans for the Gungate redevelopment too, so it really is full steam ahead in transforming Tamworth with a brand new vibrant town centre that is back at the heart of the community.”